Making Top-10 lists has become a snap, thanks to a handy new app. You just download all the year's reviews, and the software tabulates critical praise — noting words such as "compelling" and "scintillating" — versus putdowns, such as the dreaded "derivative," and then ranks the performances. So — Voila! — here is a high-tech, totally empirical list of the best in Tampa Bay area performing arts in 2012.
Cuba libre: The Florida Orchestra's cultural exchange with Cuba yielded classical music with an Afro-Cuban beat. Enrique Perez Mesa, music director of the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba, made his debut with the Florida Orchestra in May, then, six months later, brought his own orchestra to Mahaffey Theater. Most memorable was an Election Night chamber music concert by members of the Florida and Cuba orchestras at the old Cuban Club in Ybor City.
Life is a cabaret, old chum: Freefall Theatre's masterful staging of Cabaret was such a hot ticket in the spring that the company revived it in the fall, with a slightly different cast. At the heart of both productions were David Mann's powerful Emcee and Roxanne Fay's philosophical Fraulein Schneider.
The worst pies in London: Sweeney Todd received a brilliant staging by St. Petersburg Opera, with Peter Kendall Clark as the demon barber and Buffy Baggott as piemaker Mrs. Lovett. Everything came together in their madcap tour de force A Little Priest.
Delius in Florida: Stefan Sanderling and the Florida Orchestra put out a CD of works by Frederick Delius, the English composer who found his musical voice on an orange plantation near Jacksonville. Recorded live in concerts at Mahaffey Theater, with the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay and baritone Leon Williams, the Naxos release features atmospheric renditions of Appalachia and Sea Drift.
Best comeback: Lisa Powers, in her first professional acting job in a decade, starred in 2.5 Minute Ride, Lisa Kron's spellbinding one-woman show about the Holocaust and an American family. Todd Olson directed the superb production at American Stage.
Operatic tragedy: All the years of Verdi at Sarasota Opera paid off in Otello. The company's cycle to perform everything in the Verdi canon, begun in 1989, reached an apotheosis in arguably his greatest opera, with Rafael Davila as the tormented Moor, Sean Anderson as Iago and Maria D'Amato as Desdemona.
Drama queen: Emilia Sargent was luminous as Blanche DuBois in Tampa Repertory Theatre's A Streetcar Named Desire. Not only did she soar in poetic speeches on death and funerals and "long, rainy afternoons in New Orleans," but there was also a flirtatious, conspiratorial, coyly comic quality to some of her scenes with Christopher Swan's brutish Stanley.
Historical hit: Frank Galati's splendid staging of 1776 at Asolo Repertory Theatre came as a revelation. The musical about the Declaration of Independence has uncanny contemporary relevance, with its depiction of statesmen making compromises to reach a common good. It was the beginning of the story of enduring U.S. political divisions that gets another telling in the current Steven Spielberg movie Lincoln.
Sweet transvestite: In American Stage's park production of The Rocky Horror Show, Matt McGee brought a classic farcical sensibility to Frank N. Furter, less leering drag queen and more Shakespearean fool. Decked out in black lace stockings, high-heeled boots, a leather corset and top hat with feather, his Frank bore an alarming resemblance to Angela Lansbury.
Farewell, maestro: Anton Coppola, an ageless 95, conducted Aida for his finale with Opera Tampa.
John Fleming can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8716.